It’s Helen here, checking in with you guys for the ’52 Books in 2013 Challenge’ that I’m doing which none of you care about. Okey dokes, here it goes…
Book 5: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
I recently mentioned this book in a STATIWC post as there is to be a special anniversary edition released soon with a cover designed by a fan. It came at a coincidental time for me as I had just finished reading this book only a few days before seeing that article.
I chose this book as it is one of those ‘must-read’ books that always turns up on ‘Top 100’ lists and things like that. After reading it, I can see why.
Guy Montag, a fireman, lives in a future society in America where books are banned – to the extent that anyone found in possession of books can be arrested and have their houses burned down by firemen – the name now reappropriated to mean government officials who arrive to start fires rather than put them out. Like many novels from the 20th century which depicted a ‘dystopian’ future (that term gets thrown around far too much, but surely applies here), technology plays an ever more intrinsic and intrusive part in every day life – entire walls are turned into television screens to broadcast “interactive” soap operas, adverts are blasted on repeat on public transport – and independent thinking gives way to subservience. After an encounter with a free-spirited and unusual young neighbour, Montag begins to doubt his profession and way of life; further doubt is cast when he is sent to burn down a house and the owner refuses to leave, opting to burn with her books rather than live without them.
It isn’t just the plot and subject of the books, nor is it the premise that made this book so enjoyable. Bradbury’s style and imagery are just an absolute delight to read. I feel like I need to share a few of my favourite quotes:
When I talk, you look at me. When I said something about the moon, you looked at the moon, last night.
“A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind.”
(about the Mechanical Hound) “That’s sad,” said Montag, quietly, “because all we put into it is hunting and finding and killing. What a shame if that’s all it can ever know.”
Book 6: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
On the recommendation of my good friend Sabrina, who has been HASSLING me to read this book as long as I’ve known her, I decided to finally pick up Northern Lights and start reading it. The plot revolves around a young girl names Lyra, who has lived at Jordan College, Oxford all her life among the scholars; one day, after thwarting an apparent murder attempt on her uncle Lord Asriel, she finds herself on an journey to The North on a mission to save some missing children and find out more about this mysterious element, known as ‘Dust’, for which some people seem prepared to go to any lengths to get. Encountering witches, talking bears and
It’s hard for me to describe the plot without spoiling stuff, because things don’t stay the same for long in a novel where the characters aren’t always what they seem, and the events twist and turn with practically each chapter. I definitely enjoyed the book, and I intend to read the other two books in the His Dark Materials trilogy; however, as I have explained to my friends in the past who have almost beaten the crap out of me for telling them that I couldn’t get into The Lord of the Rings trilogy or any of the Harry Potter books, fantasy/adventure books just do not sit well with me. That said, I LOVED the idea of the dæmons – the moment when Lyra’s dæmon Pantalaimon tries to pull away from her to force her to approach Iorek for the first time, well let’s just say I don’t think I’ll ever get over that part. It’s about 50 words, in which Pullman makes you feel exactly what Lyra is feeling – the heartbreaking emotional and physical pain is unbearable to her, so that when a moment occurs later on when Lyra is potentially going to be subjected to the pain again, I actually thought “Oh god, poor Lyra!”. Philip Pullman is an expert writer, and while at times I felt the book was becoming a chore (only because fantasy/adventure stories always drain me), I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and after a break to read some other books, I will definitely be visiting parts 2 and 3.
Book 7: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
Well, after Northern Lights, I didn’t quite realise how exhausted I was, and planned to do a little bit of non-fiction. But then I found myself drawn to read a book I’d had on my laptop for around a year or so – do you ever get that, where you just get the urge to read a specific book? Particularly one you’ve never read before?
I first found this book when it was one of the finalists in the 2012 Pulitzer prize for fiction, which controversially did not name a winner. I was initially attracted to the the title alone – hey, anything with an exclamation mark in the title has to be a good choice, right? Swamplandia! is about Ava Bigtree, the thirteen year old daughter of Hilola Bigtree, an alligator wrestler who dies at the start of the book, and her husband The Chief, a proud man who remains optimistic about the future of Swamplandia! despite the recent opening of a nearby theme-park, ‘The World of Darkness’, which threatens to snare any remaining visitors to their own park. It is mostly told from the perspective of Ava, who isn’t quite yet ready to take her mother’s place as the star-attraction alligator wrestler. She has to deal with her grandfather being sent to live in a nursing home on the mainland, her father leaving to find a way to pay off the huge debt their family is in, her intellectual misfit older brother Kiwi leaving to find a better life away from Swamplandia!, and her older sister Osceola becoming obsessed with a occult guidebook and convincing herself she is in love with a ghost.
Sounds like a kooky bunch, right? This was a really strange book. The descriptive prose creates a vivid image of the swamp lands that the Bigtree family call home, and while the characters are all a little odd in their own way, their experiences as individuals and as a unit bring them smack down to earth. Ava is a charming character, and although there are times where the book seems to drag a little, the first person narrative means that the connection we develop with Ava is strong, and when things start to go wrong for her – and there is an occasion later in the book where things get very dark for her, very fast – it is actually difficult to read because you know what’s happening and she sort of doesn’t.
If you’re looking for an interesting story with genuinely unique characters, I would recommend Swamplandia! – but don’t be fooled by the cheery title, it is in turns moving and dark.
Book 8: Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary by David Sedaris
After two heavy-going novels (hey, they were heavy going for me, okay?!) and a failed attempt at getting into a non-fiction book (which I’ll be going back to later), I figured I’d crawl back to comfort-zone – short stories. YEAH! I found this brilliant little collection in my Kindle folder on my laptop, and having recently been discussing David Sedaris with a friend (the conversation went like this… Friend: I want to read a book by David Sedaris. Me: I’d also like to do that), I went ahead and tried this one out.
‘Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk’ is a collection of stories with animals as the main characters, in situations that are generally exclusive to animals (lab rats, zoo animals, bears in the woods) but sometimes put them in human circumstances (animals at AA meetings in prison. Yep, you read that right). Some of them are built up just for a single pun at the end, others read more like fables, and all of them feature some brilliant dialogue – middle-class problems and neurotic behaviour, self-obsessed types and misinformed loudmouths are scattered across the stories, with similar characters popping up in different animal guises.
It’s just a brilliant idea executed superbly, and I can’t wait to read more by David Sedaris in the future.
I think I’m just about on track, though I haven’t done much reading in the last few days – I’ll have another update in one month!